70, MARATHON CHAMP AND FEMALE- RUNNING PIONEER
Marathon pioneer Kathrine Switzer
ON APRIL 19, 1967, 20-year-old Kathrine Switzer (bib number 261) lined up to run the Boston Marathon at a time when women weren’t permitted to compete. At mile two a race official tried to stop her, but Switzer finished in 4:20, making history. She went on to run 39 marathons, winning the New York City Marathon in 1974, and led the campaign to get women official status in distance races. In 2015, she launched 261 Fearless, an initiative that uses running to empower women. On April 17, Switzer once again toes the line of the Boston Marathon, to mark the 50th anniversary of her game-changing debut.
WHAT GAVE YOU THE CONFIDENCE THAT DAY?
I’d been running since I was 12. It gave me such a sense of accomplishment. When I was 19 and training really long for the first time, my coach and I realised that the longer the run, the better I was. I could hold my own against the guys when we went long.
WERE YOU MAKING A POINT IN BOSTON?
I was just a kid who wanted to run her first marathon.
HOW HAS IT SHAPED THE COURSE OF YOUR LIFE?
In the race, I kept wondering why other women didn’t run and then it dawned on me that they were afraid to try because they’d been told all these myths of limitation and believed them. I knew if they were offered an opportunity to try, they would respond. And that is what I decided to do with my life, to try to create opportunities and spread the word.
HOW WILL IT FEEL TO BE BACK ON THE BOSTON START LINE?
I’m nervous, but also excited. This race is not going to be about a finishing time; it’s about celebration, inclusion and gratitude. I’m running to say thanks to a race, a city and thousands of wonderful people who have done so much to give strength to women.
WHAT DO YOU LOVE ABOUT RUNNING?
It gives me everything. Health and fitness, of course, but it also soothes my soul, makes me powerful, creative, fearless, free and grateful. No matter how crappy a day may be, a run makes it all good. Running has also helped ease a lot of the stress of forming 261 Fearless. Like any start-up, a not-for-profit is backbreaking work, and I may not see some of the fruition of this work in my lifetime. Running gives me perspective.
WHAT CAN RUNNING OFFER TO WOMEN?
Fearlessness! Most women in the world live in a fearful situation. When you put one foot in front of the other, you get a sense of your own strength. There is a reason running is becoming a women’s sport: not because these women want to be Olympians, but because they want to be free. This empowerment through running has changed millions of women’s lives.
ARE WOMEN RUNNERS DISCRIMINATED AGAINST THESE DAYS?
The situation is not nearly as bad as it was in the 1960s and 1970s, but it’s a shame it exists at all. However, for thousands of years, women have been regarded as sex objects, and powerful women as threats, so look how far we have come in the last 50 years. This will continue to improve as women continue to run in public and as men become accustomed to seeing them. The hardest thing to overcome is the cultural, religious and social restrictions in many countries. But even this is changing – at the London Olympics all countries were required to have at least one woman on a national team to be allowed to participate. I’m certain running will free many women from these chains. This is what 261 Fearless is all about.
TELL US MORE ABOUT THE ORGANISATION
Our objective is to create a community of women who can help empower other women. We have a communication network and 261 Fearless runs clubs all over the world, including several starting in the UK. We believe if women can run together in a nonjudgmental, non-competitive environment, they will get that sense of empowerment. We also partner events that embrace our ideals (see Fearless in the UK, left) and we’ll have a 261 Fearless event next year in China.
OUT OF THE WAY Race official Jock Semple is bundled aside as he tries to prevent Kathrine Switzer from running in the 1967 Boston Marathon. That’s Switzer’s then boyfriend, Tom Miller, doing the bundling.